Sicilian Sensation 

Sicilia Mia brings homestyle Sicilian flavors to SLC.

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The word paisano in Italian means fellow countryman, friend or pal—an informal term of affection that, in modern times, could be translated as "homie." So, it is as a term of endearment that I refer to the homestyle Italian food at Sicilia Mia as paisano fare.

The diminutive restaurant—a smaller sister spin-off to Sole Mio in Sandy—is a family affair. On any given afternoon or evening, you might encounter the patriarch Franco Mirenda in the kitchen, matriarch Margherita welcoming guests and helping to serve customers, Franco's son Giuseppe managing Sicilia Mia and tending to diners' every need, plus chefs Gaetano, Carmine, Angelo, Alessandro, Tony and others. You will hear Italian spoken here.

Sicilia Mia ("My Sicily") has only been open since late March, but it has already become one of the toughest tables to get in the Holladay/Millcreek area. It's a fairly small space, but there's talk of expanding into a neighboring location that previously housed a now-closed Quiznos. I'm guessing that folks quickly sussed out that Quiznos couldn't in any way compete with the fresh, from-scratch flavors here.

The restaurant might be small, but the menu is extensive. There are a dozen or so appetizers (antipasti) to choose from, plus soups, salads, pizzas, an array of pasta dishes, meat, seafood, fish and fowl entrées (secondi), and homemade desserts. Bring friends or family, come hungry and plan to share. Portion sizes are generous.

I suggest ordering a glass of Italian wine, beer or soda from the beverage list and then settling in for a lengthy dinner. Carpaccio di carne ($12.95) is a large, made-to-share order of bright red, raw beef pounded paper thin and served with delicious simplicity, letting the natural flavors of the dish speak for themselves—nothing more than fresh arugula leaves, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and a judicious drizzle of olive oil. Likewise, with calamari e gamberi ($9.95), less is more. Small shrimp and squid rings are coated in coarse bread crumbs (more like cracker crumbs, really) and flash-fried, served with marinara. The seafood is amazingly light and crunchy, needing nothing more than a smidgen of salt.

Arancini are Italian rice balls that are so named because they sort of look like oranges, which in Italian are called arancia.Here, they can be ordered à la carte or as part of the hot appetizer dish, misto caldo ($9.95). It's a trio of arancini along with a pair of potato fritters, served on a marinara-coated plate and sprinkled with grated Parmesan. While I found the fritters to be a bit on the bland side, the arancini were anything but: beautiful orbs of cooked Arborio rice, mozzarella and ground beef, coated with breadcrumbs and deep-fried to a crisp, gorgeous golden color.

It's interesting that while many of the dishes here are served in a fairly straightforward manner, without much flash or artistic flair, others are edible works of art. Spinaci al burro ($8.95) is an example of the latter. Fresh spinach is quickly sautéed in butter and then formed into a timbale shape, served on a bed of shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, with more on top, and dressed in a crosshatch pattern of balsamic vinegar—a lovely presentation that tastes even better than it looks.

Because my wife's entrée didn't arrive at our table at the same time as mine and our guests', our server took it off of our bill—despite the fact that we weren't in any hurry and hadn't complained about the dish's late arrival. It was well worth the wait. Tender, tasty codfish fillets came with a mountain of mushrooms and a veritable village of veggies—zucchini, tomato, eggplant and more—all bathed in a natural mushroom jus ($16.95). Just as enticing, albeit a little scary looking, was an all-black dish of squid ink pasta with shrimp and calamari ($15.95). It's called Spaghetti al nero di seppia, and it's brimming with briny flavors of the sea. For something a little more recognizable, try the spaghetti Bolognese ($9.95), which is a generous bowl of al dente spaghetti with a hearty and rich, rust-colored pork and beef (plus the holy trinity mirepoix) Bolognese sauce.

But I haven't even gotten to the showstopper yet. At Sicilia Mia, spaghetti alla carbonara ($19.95) is prepared tableside, usually by Commander Giuseppe. It's quite the production. A large, car tire-size hollowed-out wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano is rolled to the guests' table. A flammable liquid is drizzled into the wheel and set ablaze. Next, in rapid succession, precooked pasta and pancetta are thrown into the wheel, along with eggs. All is vigorously tossed while scraping the bowl to infuse cheese into the pasta. The carbonara is then transferred to a plate, garnished with Italian parsley and Giuseppe decorates the edge of the plate with artful balsamic slashes. The flavor is fantastic—although, to be honest, the eggs in the sauce tend to scramble a tad. It's pretty hard to create a glistening, raw egg yolk coating for pasta in a restaurant setting.

The lasagna here (grandma's recipe) is, quite simply, the best I've ever tasted. Anywhere. Period. The pasta is perfectly cooked, al dente (not the usual mush I'm far too accustomed to), enveloped in a delicious béchamel-cheese mixture and served in a large, deep-sided plate with homemade marinara.

Aside from the service, which couldn't be friendlier or more accommodating, I have only one more thing to comment upon: Do yourself a favor and order one of the wood-fired pizzas. They, like virtually everything else at Sicilia Mia, are a little piece of heaven. Oh, and the eggplant parmesan—get that, too. Hey, did I mention the tiramisu?

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